Late in the day, sepia tone, desert heat is just begging.
Jeremiah Watt, and Shirley Surly his Long Haul Trucker bicycle, are being drawn like a homing pidgeon on there Round The World cycling journey, thru deserts, over mountain passes and along sweltering ribbons of blacktop……all in an effort to bring this epic adventure to its conclusion. For Jeremiah to be drawn as if by a homing beacon means less visiting with folks as he travels, less images of the passing countryside and fewer meals from passing restaurants as he makes his way west backhome to California. “I sure wouldn’t want to be much later in the year riding these stretches because California is making its first real effort to warm up for the summer, and the heat reflected off the roads will wear you down and sap your strength. I have begun to carry a total of 7 liters of water tnru the day as well as an extra liter of GATORADE as a treat to inspire me to ride on just a few more miles so that I can have a sip……the ol’dangling carrot routine still works”. I trust in the promise of Isaiah 40:31, But for those who hope in the Lord will renew thier strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not grow faint…….I am on the ragged edge in several places during this leg.
The powerful draw of home, family, friends and yes even my daily work routine. Is somewhat of a dangerous mental distraction at times. I find that my mind dwells upon it and all that it holds instore for me, leaving me riding in a bit of a “haze at the moment”. I dont ride with music nor any thing of the sort, all because I dont want a momentary distraction to leave me in trouble there on the road. Thats all fine and dandy, its easy to remove external objects of distraction……but when your brain begins to wander and day dream thats a far more difficult obstacle to overcome. So, I Prayed for one thing, somethjng I am not great at but certainly do it knowing its my connection to the Big Fella who gave me the World to ride around. And secondly, I began sketching in my mind new items to produce within my little hardware company called Horse Shoe Brand Tools. I would build entire groups of saddle hardware products, then make simple sketches at night when I stopped so that I could jog my memory once I got back home. This proved to be very useful for me and left my mind with the ability to concentrate on the here and now of passing traffic. Much of which was danged close at times.
Left out of Springerville on a cool morning with clouds that threatened rain as a gift for me somewhere along the way. To the south of Springerville lies the taller mountains and the local ski areas, these hills were also the moorings for the dark grey flotsam that would stalk me all day like an MI6 agent. Riding north by NW out of town, leaving civilization in the comfort of its small town streets, with food for 2 solid days, water enough to make camp as I wished, Jeremiah and Shirley Surley plodded thier way over one long mesa climb after another. We climbed so much that we broke into stands and pine tress and bright blue sky, leaving cloud and rain behind us. The infamous Mogollon Rim ( pronounced – Muggy – yon Rim) by the locals, its crimson red rock facade rippled and folded like a Vaudeville theater curtain over my right shoulder. The scent of freshening Pine filled the air, all sort of Day 6 creatures filled the air above and ground around me. Could a ride get any prettier than thru this stretch of north eastern Arizona, I think not really. And just 75 miles north of me, on Interstate 40, I know there are car loads of tourists asking each other……..”OMG, how much longer does this go on” as they blaze thru the sandy scenery along that faster but far less sceneic route.
About halfway between Heber and Payson, Jeremiah would find a quiet spot among lofty Pines, upon a deep bed of crimson pine needles on which to lay down his tent. A fine supper was cooked, baked and stuffed cuttlefish, with a serving of black squid ink rice, brazed fresh vegetables and a loaf of unsalted crusty Italian bread to sop up the juieces, a glass of Chablis which paired perfectly with the evenings squid…….at least thats what I kept telling myself as I shoveled down another meal of cous-cous steamed in red hot Rotel and drank my new favorite, Cucumber Gatorade. I topped a fine meal of with Earl Grey Tea and 2 of my niece Kendra’s cookies. That girl has a future with Dorpers, fresh olive oil, her silverwork and her cookies could replace Mrs. FIELDS. She is in line to be the youngest women in New Mexico to have her own Corporate Hang Glider.
The next day would see a change in the roads and the traffic both. It was a Saturday, so very many cars out of the Phoenix basin, out for a weekend drive. The road narrows alot as you get closer to Payson and as I would find out later that day, it gets far worse after Payson all the way to the junction of 260 over to Camp Verde. But, allow me mot to get ahead of myself. As the roads narrow, the shoulder drops away completely, diminishing to just loose black sand/gravel. I have found that URBANE DRIVERS, like to watch the wilderness thru tinted windows while sitting in thier 68 degree climate controlled driving chambers and a new PINE SCENTED atomizer mounted on the dash of the new SUV. Each pudgy kid sipping from a personal 64oz drink, wearing the latest Rebok atheletic wear, but as of yet unsweated in……a maybe never will be. They just love to clean the cars mirrors on passing cyclists, as they debate if the bird seen overhead thru the moonroof is an eagle or a duck……then turn infront of you inorder to take in a sceneic overlook, or tiny alpine lake. Some of you may chastise me for calling these towner kids “pudgy”, yup, its a broadbrush statement, the likes of which my son Pine informs me that I make to many of. But, I had occassion to stop in the instance above and watch the family that I dubbed the “Howitzer Family” exit thier SUV. any one of them, with just a little grease applied, would have fit perfectly into a cannon barrel. Stopped at many overlooks over the next few days, and it very often looked the same to me. Guess I am on a rant because somwhere along on this USA trip, I read that less than 8% of our high schoolers get the daily recommended amount of physical activity……and someone has the audacity to call us an “obese nation”.
The driving and roads would over the course of the day prove to be just about too much too handle. Jeremiah and Shirley, were relegated to walking up almost every hill, not because of steepness nor difficulty…….its simply a matter of self-preservation that set in. I know many bikers will tell you, simply get out there and occupy your lane. Force the offending motorists to slow down and contend with you as another vehichle…….all fine and dandy till its you that is prying the Lexus SUV hood ornament out of yer…….butt.
Passing thru Payson, taking on more water,some gatorade and an Ice Cream Sandwich for a little exfra fuel boost. Jeremiah kept heading for the top of the Mogollon Rim and the junction of 260 headed west to Camp Verde. The road after Payson is just not a cyclists road, and shouldn’t be marked as such. Way to tight and narrow, zero shoulder, very soft gravel acts as what little shoulder there is, and its virtually up from Payson thru Pine and then Strawberry and up yet more and steeper to the 260 Junction. All totalled, I walked about 12 miles of this stretch of road……and lived to tell about it.
Made camp at the junction basically, maybe a few miles short. Camp was great, read Tom Clancy for a couple hours had tea and a few cookies, sacked out with a starry night sky captured in heavens vault. Dreamt of my wife, my kids, my big red dog that likes to fart and howl sometimes at the same time, the fat cat that adorns my office chair, the guys in the shop, lifting wieghts at noon with Luis, and all those fruit trees that have been planted over the years. It seems the longer I am traveling the more local and less worldly my thoughts become…….it was the exact opposite of this when I left on this journey.
Up early, riding before 7am and enjoying the prefectly crisp aire and the beautiful smells that come with spring no matter where you are. Heading due west, and about 3000 feet lower to Camp Verde on the Verde River in central Arizona. Alligator Junipers are loaded with pollen, spotting the landscape with thier deep ochre coloration, contrasting with the deep greens of their cousins, the western Junipers. The ground between trees, a rich tapestry of muted earthtones, with bunch grasses mostly of the perrenial type, a mottling of soft yellows intersperced with the reds of the sands from which it grows. A veritable color carpet laying under the globe like trees that fill the landscape as far as can be seen. Shirley Surly, she bucks and farts as she hits a serious 9 mile descent at 6%, while its not a European descent, it is nevertheless a downhill, and there is a new spring in her step…….is that a throb or maybe a pulse that I feel up thru the hind wheel.
Camp Verde comes very easily as it is almost a downhill roll the whole way. But attaining Prescott by days end will prove to be a much harder task, but I was determined to make it happen. I chose to break the law, and ride right over the grade on I-17 south to Hwy169 which is my exit on secondary roads to the hillside town of Prescott. The big I-17 grade took nearly 2 hours of time and chugging to get up and over. No State Troopers seemed to notice me, so, I got thru without a problem. The pulsing sensation within the back wheel was becoming more pronounced, knowing there would be a bike shop in Prescott I was determined to get it looked at since the roads and towns that follow this are far narrower and towns much smaller. Finally rolled into town on one last climb, spotted a motel with easy access and got a room and shower for the night.
The following morning, would see me at the local bike shop getting some much needed repair work done. My Phil Wood rear hub had lost the bearings on one side, hence the pulsation coming up thru the rear wheel. A few other minor adjustments, and we were rolling west on Iron Springs grade out of Prescott, and headed plunging downhill into Skull Valley. A beautiful ride of maybe 30 miles, not much left in this tiny hay farming valley. Just a tiny wood floored cafe, and the well weathered patrons who live locally. I, on the other hand stood out like an escaped zoo animal……I am sure they are still talking about the idiot on the bike. 2 glasses of sweet tea and we hit the road again, headed towards Kirkland where my wife tells me there is a lot in the way of gas stations and stores…….boy howdy was she wrong. There ain’t crap in Kirkland, but for a tiny elementary school. So Jeremiah rolls into the school and begs a bottle of water off one bus driver, fills every vessel he owns and rolls on north on SR10. About 90 miles, maybe a little more till the next civilization. As a bonus, I will roll thru Bagdad on my route west. Folks, this is one beautiful drive, its a bit ruff, rather winding in many places, but a drive to be made in the spring when the flowers are out in bloom. Beautiful for sure.
Jeremiah rolled along with one eye on the ditch, hoping to spot a good stiff plastic bottle to load on additional water thru this section. As luck and the Lord would have it, I came across a nice clean 2ltr soda bottle with good cap and no damage. Along the way, I passed a ranch house rightalong the side of the road…….walked into the yard tenatively, watching for old snaggle toothed Festus, the ranch guard dog to emerge from his shaded concealment. No dog, a real surprise…..knock…….knock……still no dog…….one more knocking round. A garden hose hung limp on a fence post as I walked back toward the road……and right tbere is the faucet……..so, I turned it on letting the warm sitting water pass thru and refilled all bottles that I had with me. Caml that nite was simply alongside the road, just a flat sandy spot large enough for a tent was all, stoppjng celt very good as there hadbeen many climbs thru the day.
Rolled up camp, which was maybe 4 or 5 miles from the Bagdad turn off, and headed out with a belly full of oatmeal and legs refreshed from a good nights rest. My route would take me duewest by the compass, till I intersect State Highway 89 which will then take me due north thru the only small town respet wnich is Wikieup before I pedal on into Kingman. Not much excitement thru this long boring deserty section, many hills to climb making my way north, the road is good for the most part with ample shoulder in all but a few short sections. Just before Wikieup, I ran a 2″ or so sheet metal screw thru both sides of the hind tyre…..never done that before. Left out of Wikieup, determined to get S close to Kingman today as I could. Somewhere along in thjs section of road, my phone rang and it was my dauvhter Nevada. We hadnt talked for quite awhile, so the 4t minutes we did was good therapy for ol’pops.
Camped at a ranch access pull off. The painting of the evening sky done each evening for us by the Lord, was hidden from view by heavy low hanging cloud….evening came wrapped in a grey cloak. Got up early to the sound of an lverly active Meadowlark sitting and singing right outside my tent. First, I thought where is my shotgun……then I thought, maybe God wants me up and riding……heah tbat must be it. Doing just that, I was riding by 7.15 or so and hit the junction of I-40 and pointed Shirley Surley due west for the 20 miles into Kingman. Arrived in good time, bought a few groceries, had a quick burger and found the Old Route 66 turn and was headed for Oatman as my destination that day.
The road out is pretty much a 2% grade out of town for maybe 12 miles or so, dry washes, flowerjng shrubs and greasewood are all tnat keep you company. At about the 12 mile mark, you will round a bend and slip in between 2 rows of low lying hills…….and then beautiful does begin…..along with the climbjng as well. You will be making your way over Sitgreaves Pass of 3500 foot elevation…..on a very old piece of knarled and twisted bitumen dating from the neolithic period. First stop is at the rock walled edifice at the base of the climb, that being, Cold Springs……a travelers oasis of soft drinks, gatorade and ice cream bars and I had one of each. Up, up, up we pedal, one slow revolving pedal stroke at a time. The sandy valley floor gkves way to rising decomposed lava formed rusty red spires. Jagged rock formations, like something taken from a Grimms Fairytale. Jutting into the sky as if set too hook passing clouds on thier way east with the prevailing winds. The ragged lava spires are soon mixed in with round knobby wall like fortifications of soft wind formed sandstone. The contrast in colors is amazing. Still further up, the sides of the surrounding mountains turn into huge brilliant carmine boulders, ot stacked and orderly, but thrown into place by Nephalum or maybe trolls back in the day. From the steep upper roads near the peak, a stop looking backwards gives one the visual mix of not just distance, but the entire color spectrum that the human eye can can concieve and enjoy. Truely, one of the prettiest roads I have ridden thus far.
The Lord is merciful, and fulfils our dreams beyond where our mind can imagine. Someplace along in Bosnia or was it Montenegro, my wife and I ran into a group of fellas logging with Oxen…….wish number 1 came too pass. Then, as I made the very last bend and slipped tnru Sitgreaves Pass…..mlvement off to my right caught my eye……Holy Crap and Poochy Maggie……..look out my mind said to me…….right there at about 15 feet over head, came a dozen Desert Big Horn rams…….running down the side of the mountain to my right, plungkng in full flight off that 15 foot bank……landing in the mkddle of the road not more than 20 feet infront of me…….they were seemingly oblivious to my presence……..they each inturn landed, and with the next stride they blunded on zpringlike legs clear lff the road to my left and into the surrounding rock and cactus…….they were all but invisible witthin seconds ofhitting the local vegetation. Jeremiah simply stood, partly dumbfounded by what had just happened……but waiting in epectation as well…….I just knew my tool making friend Barry King would/should be hot on thier heels and the reason for thier flight…….Wish number 2 came too pass, to see our hardest to find desert bighorns in thier home turf. It was indeed a special treat to see.
Topping out and sliding over to the eastern side of the pass, gave me cause to take refuge out on a rocky promontory……maybe eat a little something and look out over tbe exlansive valley below and cojnt my continual blessings. “Hey, what ya doin there ehh?”, came a voice from some unseen person to my right. Just sitting here eating and tKing in the beauty of it all……so, where are you from in Canada I ask. The EHH suffix gave him away. Ends up, 2 retirees from “dead rear” as it is locally known….or Red Deer on the map. Farmers, grain growers. Wingerjng in the Quartzite area Nd just relaxing along the Colorado river when they felt like getting up and moving. The lifestyle would’nt suit me, but it seemed to fit there rather plush vase type build to tee. Ate my 2 pieces of fruit, rolled on down below the crest a few miles, took many more pics, and set up my little tent where the wind could not get to me. What a drop dead gorgeous spot I had, with surrounding red rock turning crimson with the advent of evening. Bouffant volumnous clouds turned pink and orange overhead as brilliant green foliage was washed in the spectral light of evening, once again the Lord would place his hand upon another blessed day and make it visibly so for all too see. There I sat, with a front row seat, believeing ti too be just for me……do you think it could be?
Allen, a confirmed “roadie”, was my visitor along the streets of Needles. He, having been on the road now for an excess of 3 years. Had crashed out his bike, sold it off for parts along with everything he owned and bought an Amtrac ticket back to Wisconsin and home. He would take a month off, rebuild another bike and set off by June 1 to ride all the way around the Great Lakes. It amazed me how mush we ended up looking alike…….it seems to me profiling long distance bicycle travelers would be very easy. Bedang careful out there mKing your way west to Barstow he warned, as tbere aint anythjng tbat ocfers salvation for tbe weary traveller along Old 66…..just so you know!
144 miles of bright sunny skies, by middah everythkng took on a silvery sheen made manifest by dry air and microscopic dust particles floating in the California desert air. Distance was lost to haze by 1pm. Thirst began to feel like the norm, and shade was nowhere to be seen nor found…..it was time to just shutup and pedal……after all, Shirley and I had only 143 miles left to go. My ATT quit me less than 5 miles out of Needles, and never returned till I was within about 20 miles of Barstow. 2.25 days too Barstow, arrived this am about 9 and got a motel room so I had a full day of blasting AC and work on the blog and images. Just one day that I am thankful too have an obligation too work on the blog today. It would look like one blog post left from Barstow to home which is about 258 miles by my mapping, and will follow that with gear review after I make it into my front yard sans a radiator attached to my backside. Have a great day, and God bless you all for following, commenting (too which I will try and return replies later today) and generally encouraging me as I ride.